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Indecency Policies Need to Be Consistent, Clear, NAB Tells FCC

MIM says proposed change “would allow smut on the public airwaves”

NAB wants the FCC to clarify its indecency policy.

In just-filed comments to the commission, the broadcast trade group says in the 35 years since the Pacifica/George Carlin Seven Dirty Words decision, the rational for broadcast-specific limits on so-called “indecent” speech has “crumbled” under the weight of changes in technology and media consumption. “Children in particular enjoy unfettered access to content via devices that they carry in their pockets and backpacks — access that usually involves no subscription or special parental involvement. In this environment, the constitutionality of a broadcast-only prohibition on indecent material is increasingly in doubt,” says NAB.

The focus on fleeting expletives and isolated nudity needs to be reversed, according to the trade lobby, saying the policy has led to “unpredictable, arbitrary and unconstitutional enforcement of indecency rules and policies that chilled broadcaster speech.” Instead, any policies the commission issues going forward must be “predictable, consistent and clear as possible.”

In April, the agency asked for public input on whether the commission should focus its enforcement energies on the most egregious indecency cases and drop the fleeting expletives punishment.

Some 100,000 comments have been filed in the proceeding, according to Morality in Media, which has the opposite opinion. MIM tells the agency dropping the fleeting expletives focus “would allow smut on the public airwaves while children are watching.”

FCC Chairman nominee Tom Wheeler gave a hint as to where his thoughts are on the topic. He told lawmakers during his nomination hearing this week the courts have been “pretty specific,” on indecency, obscenity and violence but then invoked ’60s-era FCC Chair Newton Minow’s famous “vast wasteland” quote about television programming. That comment caught the public’s attention, Wheeler said, adding that may be possible to do the same thing now, “and say, maybe we can do better.”

Public comments to GN Docket 13-86 were due yesterday; the commission is taking reply comments through July 18.